Typically, it’s time for a letter, right?
Thanks for hanging in there over the weekend. The next few chapters a rough but we’ll get to that HEA eventually!
Darcy rode his horse back to Netherfield at a slow canter. Each clomp of his mount’s hooves thudded in his hollow heart. Elizabeth’s words resounded in his ears. He did not understand what about his request made her so angry, but her accusations filled him like lead. He had wanted to separate Bingley from Jane Bennet.
He had struggled with his feelings for Elizabeth for weeks. He had thought her pretty, but not tempting enough for a dance when he hated dancing with strangers so much. By the time he realized how bewitched he was, he was desperate to resist her. He determined it must have only been attraction and lust, although how that was possible when her beauty grew only after he found her intelligent and charming he had chosen to not examine. Feeling it a lost battle between his head and his heart, he begrudgingly attempted to get to know her without prejudice. A resolve he was not entirely committed to until he returned to London.
He had to agree, it was hardly a romantic tale. He had thought Elizabeth too sensible to need such flattery, but then he recalled their recent encounters. She responded very favourably when he was least reserved and most direct in his admiration. What had Arlington said? All ladies liked to have their vanity flattered and Darcy even knew of her poor first impression of him. He also knew none of the usual Societal pretensions would mean a thing to her. He should have known, too, that a rushed marriage because of some idle reports would not concern her. When Arlington suggested the idea of forcing Elizabeth in some way, Darcy immediately rejected it. He valued the freedom to choose too much himself. But had he mentioned that to her? Had he fully explained how his admiration overflowed despite misgivings? He ought to have told her how much he loved her.
He loved her and yet had never even told her. He had been careful, until now, to not put that label on it. Love denoted a departure from logic. It made decisions based on feelings instead of reason. It made a person blind to mercenary ladies, such as in Richard’s case. It made them blind to a family of would be courtesans, such as Bingley’s last encounter before meeting Jane Bennet. In his own case, it made him blind to the feelings of his love. And for that, there could be no forgiveness.
Reaching Netherfield, he tossed the reins at the stable hand and stalked into the house. Passing by the drawing room, he heard a woman weeping. Fearing it was Georgiana, he entered without a knock and was surprised to find Miss Bingley. She startled at his entrance.
“Forgive me,” he said. He began to retreat when he considered that if it had been Georgiana, he would have hoped someone would have inquired after her. Miss Bingley had looked away, so he cleared his throat. “Miss Bingley, are you well?”
She threw her hands up in the air. “As well as you can be after refusing a Viscount!”
Anger slammed into him. How dare Arlington! “I apologise for my cousin. I told him upon inviting him here that none of his usual antics would be tolerated. I will speak with Bingley immediately and we will see he leaves.”
Miss Bingley shook her head. “You misunderstand. He made me an honourable offer of marriage and I…” she blew out a deep breath, “declined.”
Part of him found it incredulous, part of him worried it was out of hope for himself, but a small part of him also found compassion for her.
“You need not look at me so terrified. I did not refuse him because I still wanted you. I have made my peace with your marrying Eliza.”
He closed his eyes against the pain that seared his heart. He had no well-rehearsed line to put her off and she immediately perceived it.
“Oh! That girl is a simpleton!”
“No. She has her reasons and I can only respect her for them.”
“Does she not know what a precious gift love is?”
He disliked talking on his own matters. “If you are certain you are well, then I will leave you.”
“I must apologise to you.” She looked down at her hands for a moment. “I am sorry if I have been too insistent with my hopes. It has been a very long time since I considered seeking love in marriage, and I was selfish to ever think you would not want it and then to get in the way when you sought it with another.”
Darcy furrowed his brow. “So you refused my cousin because you do not love him?”
“No I do not, and I find when it comes down to it, the exchange of a title is not worth never knowing love again.”
He sat on the sofa next to her. “You might have grown to love him.”
“What would have been the point of it?” She gave him a sad smile. “I recognise the actions of a person who has loved and lost. He would never open his heart to me. Loving a man who cannot return the feeling would be an even worse fate.”
He took a deep, shuddering breath. Indeed, the worst fate he could imagine was loving Elizabeth and her never return it.
“Talk to her again,” Caroline said and touched his arm. “Be insistent. Be honest”
“No.” He shook his head vehemently. He could never debase himself that way again.
“Lose your pride, Darcy or you will lose her forever.”
“Listen to her!” Georgiana cried from the doorway and rushed in.
“Georgie!” he scolded.
“A maid heard Miss Bingley crying and sent for me. By the time I arrived you were in here and I listened to your entire conversation. There must be some mistake. I know she loves you!”
“If that be the case, she has objections even stronger than her feelings.”
“Speak to her,” Caroline said again.
“No, write to her,” Georgiana suggested and pulled him by the hand to the door. “Go. Write to her and we will call on her on Monday.”
“You clearly need all the feminine help you can get!”
Feeling his courage rise, he departed for his chamber and drew out writing utensils.
There would be no time for calls between services on Sunday, but he hoped the time would allow her anger to lessen.
Sunday meant a cessation of calls except among the closest of friends, and so Wickham could not visit Longbourn. Denny reported the events of Sir William’s dinner: namely Bingley’s proposal and Darcy’s sudden change in demeanour.
He spent the day in reflection. There was no victory to be had in Darcy simply tiring of Eliza. The hope of Darcy taking such a keen interest in Bingley’s affairs that he would help his friend’s sister-in-law, whenhe had found Eliza unworthy, was improbable. However, he could always count on Darcy’s sense of honour. If it were determined Darcy was the root cause of it all, then Darcy would feel bound to pay the cost. This was feasible enough. Darcy had not exposed Wickham despite ample opportunity.
In the meantime, he would call on Eliza. If Darcy’s interest was waning, then Eliza’s loyalty was likely weak. She had already accomplished her primary goal of securing Bingley’s proposal for Jane. As an added security measure, there was always the trouble her reckless father could soon be in, should added pressure prove needed.
Arriving at Longbourn the following Monday brought better news than he expected. Eliza had sprained her ankle and, therefore, was housebound. He was at his most charming in a drawing room, whereas Darcy excelled in solitary encounters. Mrs. Bennet was quite put out over the ordeal, although boasting readily enough that Mr. Darcy had rescued her daughter. Then she commanded her middle daughters, Mary and Kitty to his side. It appeared she reserved her favourite, Lydia, for Arlington.
“I have told you, there is no need to fuss over me Mama,” Eliza said. “I am rather certain Mr. Darcy will not be calling today, or any day soon. I would not be surprised to hear of his return to Town.”
“Why would he go and so close to Christmas?”
Eliza bit her lower lip and turned her head as her cheeks flamed red.
“Mr. Bingley has said that Mr. Darcy always has interests needing his attention in London,” Jane Bennet said from near her sister’s side, and Wickham did not miss the grateful look Eliza shot her sister.
Mrs. Bennet was called away by the housekeeper, and Mary and Kitty soon made their excuses to leave his side. Wickham took the opportunity to draw nearer Eliza.
“I fear your current state will restrict you more than you would like,” he said.
She exhaled. “It is just as well. I find little comfort being out of doors, recently.”
He cocked his head. Something must have created this new aversion and he thought it something much stronger than a sprained ankle. “You were fortunate Darcy found you and was able to assist you.”
She looked at her hands. “Yes, I suppose I was.”
She seemed to have returned to her previous reserve with him, which annoyed him, but he determined to not push her at the moment. He had already learned valuable information. “Perhaps you will feel the lure of your father’s chessboard once again.”
She smiled at last. “I always welcome a match with you, Mr. Wickham.”
“I will look forward to it on my next call, then. I fear it is time for me to leave.”
After saying his farewells to the other ladies present and sending his greetings to their father, he exited the house, but loitered on the grounds. He was not disappointed to see the Darcy carriage arrive a few minutes later.
“She will speak to me. I know it,” Georgiana Darcy said to her brother after dismounting and the carriage was directed towards the stables. “Show that you are still amiable to her family, and I will give her your letter.”
Wickham grinned at the overheard conversation. Just like Darcy to have to speak to a lady in a message. He moved from the tree he had been leaning on and into their line of sight. Both of them startled.
“Return to the carriage, Georgiana,” Darcy said in his typical authoritative voice, but the girl stood frozen before him. “Now!” He yelled and she sprinted back to the carriage house.
“A proposal in a letter? And your sister giving it to her for you? How…inept.” Wickham laughed at his old nemesis.
“What do you want?”
Wickham did not reply, at first, his mind quickly reassessing his earlier supposition. “No, it is I who have something you want.”
“You have nothing I desire.” Darcy turned toward the carriage house.
“Oh, but I know why Eliza turned down your offer of marriage.”
Darcy scoffed. “I thought you believed I was here to propose.”
Wickham picked pretend lint from his uniform. “I would never miss the chance to insult you.” Darcy again turned his back on him and Wickham called out, “She will not see you, and Georgiana has to give her the letter because she has already refused you.”
He saw Darcy’s shoulders tense, unwittingly confirming his speculation. “She refused you because it was all a ploy,” Wickham taunted.
Darcy turned around to face him. “What do you mean?”
“She only wanted to distract you long enough for Bingley to propose to Jane.” He paused long enough to allow his words to sink in. Judging by the way Darcy’s jaw tensed, they did register. “I have to admire her cunning. Then, what else is an intelligent woman to do?”
“Miss Elizabeth has far too much integrity to stoop to such arts.”
“You want to think that don’t you? Instead, the great Mr. Darcy—who has resisted attachments for years—succumbed to a country schemer and the added insult of it all is that she didn’t even care for herself. You may not know her as well as you think, but anyone can see her extreme loyalty to her family. She would do anything to secure her sister’s happiness.”
“How would you know so much about it? It would be unwise for her to gossip about her plans.” Wickham recognised the look of panic on Darcy’s face. It was the look of a desperate man reaching for the last vestiges of his argument.
“It should be obvious. I am her cohort.” Wickham internally triumphed at the crashed look Darcy’s face took on. “Go back to London, Darcy.”
Wickham brushed past Darcy and continued on the path to Meryton. Time would tell if he could secure Darcy money out of this endeavour, but, for now, seeing Darcy denied the one thing he could never buy—the love of a good woman—was priceless.
Hearing the sounds of a carriage shortly after Mr. Wickham left, Kitty and Lydia lunged for the window.
“It’s the Darcy emblem,” Lydia said. “I can’t tell if Arlington is in there or not.” She sat down in a huff and pouted.
“That’s Lord Arlington,” Mary scolded.
“Kitty, come away from the window,” Jane said and the younger girl reluctantly agreed.
“Jane!” Elizabeth hissed. “Help me upstairs.”
“You do not want to see them?”
“No!” Elizabeth sighed as Jane searched her eyes, confusion marking her face. “There is no time for questions. Help me, please!”
Jane silently nodded her head and helped Elizabeth hobble up to her chamber. Several minutes later, she heard the carriage go back down the drive, but she had heard no knock at the door. There were no indications that the Darcys ever came inside Longbourn. How curious!
Elizabeth stayed in her room and sometime later heard the sounds of Mr. Bingley’s arrival by horse. Elizabeth knew Jane would spend as much time as possible with her betrothed, and so the knock at her door half an hour later was entirely unexpected. She was even more surprised when Mary entered.
“I wanted to see how you were feeling,” the younger girl said.
“Allowing it to be elevated helps. I think it will be nearly as good as new in another day or two,” Elizabeth said.
“I meant about the Darcys. Mr. Bingley said that they and Lord Arlington are returning to London.”
“Oh,” Elizabeth looked at her hands.
“I will miss Georgiana. Mr. Bingley said that he was told she had grown faint just before arriving at our house, and so they had to turn back around. It explains why they did not come inside.”
Elizabeth hated that Georgiana was stuck in the middle of her situation with Mr. Darcy. She hoped the girl would continue to correspond with her, or her sisters at least. Had she cost Mary, a friend? She had never worried about it until now. As unselfish as she could be for Jane, Elizabeth suddenly realized she was not as loving towards her younger sisters. “I hope all is well. Should they be travelling if Georgiana is feeling ill?”
Mary shrugged her shoulders. “Apparently it only afflicts her before long journeys and so the sooner they complete it, the better.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. The situation was strange and so she could only expect an odd answer. She admitted to feeling a sting of pain when she had thought the Darcys had not come inside. Now, hearing that they were leaving for London without getting to say goodbye, she had the overwhelming feeling of loss. Darcy had vowed they would finish speaking about Wickham, and she did not know, until this moment, how much she depended on him following through on his words. She had no intention of saying anything about his proposal or changing her refusal. She could scarcely understand her feelings.
“I am sorry you did not get to say goodbye, Lizzy,” Mary broke Elizabeth’s silent meditation. “After Jane marries Mr. Bingley perhaps they will visit again. Or you could go with them when they are in London. You will get to see him again. Do not worry.” Mary squeezed Elizabeth’s hand.
“Mr. Darcy, of course!” Mary assessed the look of shock on Elizabeth’s face. “Did you think I would not know?”
“Just because Mama says he is interested does not make it so.”
“No, I do not think it because of Mama’s wishes. His admiration was very plain for everyone to see, and I had thought you were falling in love with him as well.” Her gaze dropped to her hands. “I am often forgotten about, and so I am left observing others.”
“I am sorry that I exclude you as often as anyone else,” Elizabeth said.
“I know you love me, Lizzy. I am less vulnerable than Jane seems and less flighty than Lydia and Kitty. Perhaps you and the others forget about me because I do not appear to need the attention.” Tears pricked Mary’s eyes and Elizabeth hated that she had made a sister feel so wretched.
“That is exactly it! I had not thought you desired to spend time with me. Our interests seem so different and I had nothing to teach you.”
“But our interests are similar! We are the only ones that play and sing. We both enjoy reading. We are given to serious thought and study, which has made us believe there is an inevitable evil in the world.” Mary adjusted her spectacles and gave a wry smile. “I even admit to being rather critical and judgmental like you.”
Elizabeth cocked her head. Had Mary purposefully followed in her footsteps? “Am I really so judgmental?”
“You hated Mr. Darcy, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst upon first sight. Overhearing his remarks at the assembly confirmed what you already predetermined, and then you acted as though it was the most unforgivable sin in the world to be rich and proud.”
Elizabeth winced at her sister’s description and Mary paused for a moment. “Well, you seemed to think better of your first feelings after you nursed Jane at Netherfield. And that is why I am sorry that Mr. Darcy has left. I know how much gaining his good opinion must have meant, and how much altering your prejudice must have cost you.”
Increasingly, Elizabeth thought her prejudice cost her more than she realized. Put in this light, her accusations about Mr. Darcy made little sense. “But I do not believe he found you unworthy. Do not worry. He will see there is no one like you in London and return, just as Bingley did for Jane.”
Mary smiled brightly at Elizabeth before leaving. She realized she shared the same wish with all of her heart. She could not allow herself to hope, however. Pride was Darcy’s weakest trait, and it would never allow him to propose to her again. She recognized too that although her arguments against him had not been worth refusing him over, they were valid nonetheless, and so she could hardly swallow all of her pride and beg to rescind it. There was now a gulf impassable between them. Meeting again, however probable, would not alter this. She would miss his attention; it flattered her vanity, but that could be all it meant.
Attempting to reconcile herself to this truth, on the other hand, was harder than she first believed it would be. She had little luck of it when she greeted her aunt and uncle, who arrived that afternoon from London for the Christmas holiday. Mrs. Bennet loudly extolled Jane’s happiness and complained of the Darcys’ departure, along with Arlington. Elizabeth, she opined loudly, must be behind the mischief of it all. First she refused Mr. Collins, then she ran off Mr. Darcy and he took the viscount with him and ruined poor Lydia’s chances as well. At least, her dear Bingley could withstand it all.
The following day, Mr. Wickham called again and, as promised, invited her to a game of chess in Mr. Bennet’s library.
“I saw Darcy by chance yesterday,” he said after some time of quiet play. When Elizabeth did not reply, he continued speaking. “It seems he was leaving the country and I do not think he would have even told me.”
Elizabeth tried to not look too conscious, but could feel heat on her cheeks. “They did not call here either. I was told that Miss Darcy grows anxious before long journeys and they often have to leave earlier than planned to ease her symptoms.”
“He could have written a note,” Wickham offered and Elizabeth nodded her head. Indeed, they could have. Under the guise of reaching across the board, he leaned closer to her and dropped his voice. “It seems I was not worthy of his notice. I suspect we have quite a bit in common there, Miss Elizabeth.”
His words distracted her for the remainder of the game. Her vanity had been her failing again. For she was fooling herself to say it did not bother her that Darcy had left. It mattered a great deal and the longer she thought about it, the more she wondered if it were to avoid the growing gossip connecting their names than it was because his pride was hurt by her refusal. In his proposal, he made it clear he had not found her worthy to take as a wife for any other reason than his understanding of local expectations.
Once she allowed herself to feel the weight of his dismissal, she felt the true pain of his absence. His mind would have been softened and manners improved by her liveliness. His greater intelligence of the world would have answered all her wishes for a husband who respected and encouraged her natural desire to learn more. Now, such a possibility was lost to her forever.
As the match concluded, Elizabeth felt Wickham’s check-mate had been an unavoidable eventuality. He asked for another match tomorrow and she agreed without thinking about it. She could not care about the game or Wickham at all; she could think only of Darcy.
*Sniff sniff* What can it mean when it seems they both have given up?